New York Law School

Author Archive

The Flint Water Crisis

When my siblings and I were younger, we each imagined ourselves growing up and becoming someone important. We were always taught to dream big. My sister Syrita always pretended to be a doctor, always pretending to perform life saving surgery. Today she is one. I, on the other hand, imagined standing before a jury giving the closing statement of all closing statements. Today, I am months away from realizing my dream.

Despite the fact that the only black lawyers and doctors my sister and I saw growing up were on TV, Syrita and I, like our other three siblings held onto our dreams, refusing to be woken up or deterred. We relentlessly envisioned ourselves being that next great lawyer or that next great doctor. Little did I realize at that time how lucky my siblings and I were by having the ability just to dream because for the thousands of black children in Flint, Michigan, who for the past two years, have drank, bathed and consumed food cooked in water from their home’s pipes, and the thousands of children yet to be born, State and Local officials may have poisoned those dreams.

Let me shed some light on the situation. Over the past two years, due to the inaction of State and Local officials, children, along with all other residents living in Flint, have been exposed to toxic water. This situation has been coined The Flint Water Crisis. Read more

New Orleans: 10 Years after Hurricane Katrina

 

Silence filled each and every one of the 72,000 seats, seats in which fans once sat. The turf, once home to gridiron titans competing for glory and excellence, was covered by cots, tables and sleeping bags.   Players replaced by evacuees. Football helmets and shoulder pads replaced by damp clothes and bags filled with priceless memories. The blood, sweat and tears of athletic gods supplanted by the blood of the now homeless, the sweat of the living, and tears for the dead. When stillness finally rested upon the city, more than 1800 lay dead, scattered around the city. Eighty percent of the city was submerged beneath water. Ten years ago, New Orleans was the city of all cities. The best jazz, the best seafood, and the best southern style cooking one could find east of the Mississippi.   It was the place where the native New Orleanians made you feel as though New Orleans was your home too with their warm southern hospitality. Ten years ago the warm smiles and sweet sounds of jazz faded away and were replaced by the sound of howling winds, cries of hunger, and weeps of desperation. Ten years ago, we saw, and I say “we” meaning the people of this country, what the United States government and the State of Louisiana really thought about its people, specifically, its Black residents.

 

Ten years later; the Big Easy has grown, in some ways unrecognizable. As the city’s once darken image has grown lighter due to Whites and Latinos pouring into the city building town­houses where hous­ing pro­jects once stood, New Orleans has watched for the past ten years as the combination of rising housing costs and government policies push the poor, Black res­id­ents that returned and remained to the outskirts of the city in search of cheap­er rent—or to home­less camps un­der the city’s high­ways. Blacks, who once accounted for two-thirds of the city’s pop­u­la­tion be­fore Hurricane Kat­rina, now make up slightly more than half of the city’s pop­u­la­tion. The thousands of Latino im­mig­rants re­cruited to clean up and re­build the city remained in New Orleans increasing the size of their population. Ac­cord­ing to a study by pro­fess­ors at Tu­lane Uni­versity and Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia, Berke­ley, an es­tim­ated 10,000-14,000 Latino work­ers moved to New Or­leans with­in a year of Kat­rina.

Read more

Mr. and Mrs. Irrelevant: Foster v. Chatman and the Problem of Jury Exclusion

2015’s Mr. Irrelevant…do you recall his name off the top of your head? No? Let me give you a hint; his name is essentially two first names. Give up? Gerald Christian. Does that name ring a bell? Do not be alarmed if it does not. His name probably does not mean anything to you unless you are an Arizona Cardinal fan and even then it probably still does not mean that much to you

Gerald Christian was the last pick in this year’s National Football League (“NFL”) annual’s draft which is probably why you do not recognize his name. See, as the last pick, Gerald was given the facetious title of Mr. Irrelevant. That title is bestowed each year on the last player picked in the NFL draft. The evolution of the title developed from the fact the last pick typically failed to make the selecting team’s final roster, thus rendering the player ultimately irrelevant.

In our justice system, sometimes, potential jurors are given the title of either Mr. Irrelevant or Mrs. Irrelevant because like the players in NFL, these potential jurors typically fail to make the “team” as they are routinely excluded from serving on juries. Naturally, the follow up question is: “what do I mean that potential jurors fail to make the team?” Let me explain. In our legal system, lawyers have a tool called a peremptory challenge — a device through which either side in a case can strike a set number of would-be jurors from serving, based not on any demonstrated “cause” or “prejudice” on the part of any potential juror, but on a mere hunch or a feeling that the stricken juror would not be good for that lawyer’s side. But, the right to use peremptory challenges is not without limitations. In Batson v. Kentucky, the United States Supreme Court made it unlawful to strike a potential juror on the basis of race.

So here is the problem, some lawyers and courts have ignored Batson, allowing lawyers to strike potential jurors based on race. As a result, many criminal defendants are appealing their convictions arguing that the prosecution violated Batson in striking people of color from the jury. One of those cases, Foster v. Chatman, will be argued before the Supreme Court this fall. This Georgia case has the ability to reshape future juries throughout the country.

 

Read more